Any normally joyful family events--like birthdays and anniversaries--can generate great challenges for families and friends of those with Alzheimer's. But perhaps this joyful day of true love presents special trials.
The good news: there are ways to maintain--sometimes even enhance--the joy. The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America and others have taught me great insights for making sure Valentine’s Day stays a blessed memory among as many people as possible.
Establish new traditions--Maybe you can’t take a loved one out to eat or to a major party. Whether they can still eat what was their favorite food (and you're allowed to bring it in) or you need to work with an in-house nutritionist, gather just a few servings for a select group of people and arrange a little "love fest" of eating together.
Reinforce musical memories--I have a dear friend whose father started regressing in his 90s. My friend--an amateur, but well-established, musician--would come to the LTC home and play and sing music his father learned as a child. My friend could see the joy come to his Dad's face which in turn brought the son joy and a feeling he was truly helping.
Take advantage of new tech--Far away? An expert I know recommended making sure your loved one has something that will receive Skype or other messages. Have someone take a photo of your hands holding flowers or something heart shaped, then add audio-- like a simple "I love you"--to the beamed out message. If you're techno-savvy you can even set up a video--e.g., other Valentine's Day images, photos from the family album--and have that run as you tell one or more stories of special remembrances.
Don't forget low-tech--Of course if you're actually visiting (or even living with) a loved one, besides vids like the one above you can bring out and talk about the family photo album. Or bring new memories with photos you've accumulated as an adult; e.g., since you married, special vacations, at your job, etc.
Nothing is trivial--One of my experts said families often tell her that the cute stories are just silly tidbits. Don't dismiss them. You never know what will excite a loved one's memory center.
Think big...--You can glean remembrances from others besides yourself and the immediate family. Spread the word out to folks your beloved knew at work, their neighbors, their religious environs, and ask people there to send you remembrances. Why was your beloved special to them? What's the word/sentence/question your loved one always used that brings his/her image back to life? (When I think of my dear Aunt Tillie--now gone--"Kitty the Ketchup" brings memories. It was a character in stories she made up for the family's kids.)
...But present small--Depending on how progressed your loved one Alzheimer's, they may not be able to sit and listen to/look at tons of remembrances. Be prepared to provide quick sound bites and/or a few images at any one time.
Ultimately remember: just like throughout the rest of life, Valentine's Day is a good time to start new memories and traditions. Even if your loved one never absorbs them, you will. And that can bring a different kind of happiness. ###
About Wendy: Wendy Meyeroff has been a provider first of B2B and then a leader in B2C health communications for 20+ years. While starting in NYC and now based in Baltimore, through her WM Medical Communications, she’s supplied print and online materials for a wide range of clients across the U.S. and beyond, with her extra specialty of writing for/about aging Americans. Among her collaborations: NIH, CBS, Sears, Merck, the American Heart Association, and the American Medical Association. Since 2018, Wendy also co-hosts the Biz side of Partners in Health & Biz, a weekly podcast now entering its eighth year. https://www.linkedin.com/in/wmeyeroff/